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It’s a Wonderful Time to be a Suck Up

September 1, 2016 12 comments

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One month to go and the fans are getting anxious. I see the tweets. Some are realizing what morons Andrew Friedman and his pet gnome Farhan Zaidi are; while others are thrilled the Dodgers are clinging to the vapors of first place in the worst division in baseball, the NL West. Of course the majority of the latter group are typical LA fans – thrilled by beach balls, parking lot fights and selfies. Too young to know better, or so is their excuse.

 

The Dodgers ownership is beside themselves that over 3 million fans attended games this year – or as most understand, 3 million tickets were sold. That’s the important thing, after all. Win, lose or draw (do they have ties in baseball?), the greedy finance company known as the Guggenheim Group get their money. They have that sneaky TV deal with evil empire Time Warner Cable pouring money into the offshore accounts, TV partnerships with MLB, gate receipts, merchandise and expensive stadium food. The parking goes to former sleazy owner Frank McCourt, bless his heart.

 

Fans are still in-fighting, brainwashed by a steady dose of LA media sucking up to the Dodgers gang of geniuses in the front office. The reporters – print, radio or TV – want access to the locker room and the free food before games, after all. It’s hard to find any media person in LA say anything negative, or dare I say, truthful, about the way the front office has conducted business since the last change in direction that landed Friedman and Zaidi into power. LA Times beat reporters triumphantly point to the scoreboard – “First place!”, they declare – while it lasts. If you point out the team has mostly been in first place for many years, under previous general managers, and that payroll is the highest in sports, as well as playing 80 games vs. terrible NL West competition, they shrug their shoulders and head for the free eats.

 

Since the message is always sunny, the majority of fans boast of “the Azul” and liken the slugs on the field in 2016 to some of the greatest to ever wear the Dodgers uniform. I figured out some time back that besides mass hypnosis, a lot of this was because the fans are in their teens and twenties and even early thirties and just do not know better. In their lifetimes – think of that! – in their lifetimes they have never seen a truly great Dodgers team. Their parents – yes, parents – mention names like Garvey, Lopes, Baker, Smith, Sutton, Fernando, Cey, etc., etc. and they look starry eyed at their folks while wearing a Luis Cruz or Charlie Culberson jersey. i.e. their perspective is skewed. There is no saving them. They root the laundry Jerry Seinfeld used to mention fans cheering on. “Who is Jerry Seinfeld?”, they ask.

 

If you try to appeal to them with logic and commonsense you are wasting your time. They are loyal to the core, just like Guggenheim wants. They need these young ones to buy hats and shirts and jerseys and get fanatical so the money keeps rolling in. I will sometimes, for fun, make obvious comments on something that is screwed up and I get attacked or responded to with some confused remark. It’s like explaining the sequence of events in “Pulp Fiction” to a Dalmatian.

 

I can’t fault the young and blissfully ignorant – hell, if the media is so enthralled with mediocrity, why should a vaping kid with a black Dodgers lid be any different? The Dodgers are dead – long gone, a ghost. The final lap of Vin Scully’s career is superficially celebrated but the majority of fans either can’t wait for the old codger to disappear or have no idea why this “boring old guy” is famous anyway.

 

The Dodgers have one month to sail into the playoffs – helped by a final month full of weak West foes – or choke. The team is interesting – the pen holding its own for the most part, save for various shitheels Friedman tries here and there, but overworked. The rotation is crap on a stick – the worst I can remember in all my years of following the Dodgers. The lineup is a patchwork any given night since analytics maintain you can’t throw your “best” players out there, you must always be clever and innovative – keep them guessing, seems to be the Friedman/Zaidi mantra.

 

The Dodgers score 10 runs or 0. They hit homers that get the fans jumping up and down but have trouble hitting in the clutch, moving runners over, stealing bases, taking extra bases and basically all the staples that baseball run producing is supposed to entail. When I wonder how this will play in October, some wet behind the ears whelp thumps his chest mightily and like Bill Shaikin himself, says, “Scoreboard! First place!”

 

No one cares that with 80 games against doormats and a payroll double most other teams, one should expect a degree of success. Again, logic is lost on the clueless. And after all, who am I to rain on their parade? If they want to think the 2016 Dodgers are the team that will break the jinx and bring a parade, full of rioting and hospitalization, to LA, so be it. The game is their game, after all. The young have inherited the Earth – the VMAs, Instagram, Snapchat and Kylie Jenner have deemed it so.

 

I am from a long past generation. Antiquated ideas that flawed data has determined is passé. In my twisted world a general manager would start with pitching – build a strong bullpen that is several power arms deep, shortening games and work back to the rotation. The rotation would consist of three very good starters – healthy, reliable, and capable of going deep into games. The four spot would be someone who could also reliably take the ball and pitch competitively. The fifth spot could be a veteran or a tryout for a top pitching prospect. The farm would have several other pitching prospects and a few veterans capable of stepping in in a pinch. I know this sounds like madness to the young, but it was the way baseball pitching staffs were considered and put together for many years. I know, the data has shown that it’s better to use a jumble of minor league lifers and reclamation projects, and that a rotation can consist of anyone with a pulse. Or who once had a pulse.

 

Again, I recall Dodgers rotations that were amazing, and some that were passable. I don’t recall a time when day to day, every month, no one could say who the day’s starting pitcher was going to be. I don’t recall such a cavalier attitude being given to pitching. This is, was, the LA Dodgers, after all. The team’s pitching has been legendary. Or at least that old man behind the mic has claimed.

 

I am at a loss how a front office full of geniuses – more cooks in the kitchen than Nobu – can spend so much money and have so little to show for it on the field. I mean, a payroll over $200 million while half the lineup, the starting pitcher and several members of the bullpen were just recently UPS drivers is quite an amazing achievement. How do you spend that much and get this little? It’s an art, I tell you.

 

The fans, guardians of finance companies’ wallets, will support any move the front office makes. Pay Zack Greinke until he’s nearing 40? Bah! Give the money to a few untried Cubans instead and overpay some guys coming off major injuries. Spread that green around. Any moron could look at the winter free-agent market and sign a few solid arms, but it takes brains to wait until all of those players are gone and then pull something out of your ass. Remember, it’s poker. Wait it out. Wait till every possible move that makes sense has happened, then pounce. Cleverness is more important than commonsense.

 

I also like how when trouble is evident, the brain trust waits longer still, and lets word leak that something huge is coming. Then the fans get all excited, chattering to themselves about this team’s ace or that team’s best bat and lo and behold, without fail, Friedman and Zaidi hit speed dial in the 11th hour and call on their buddies in Tampa and Oakland to bail them out. Hoarding prospects like nuggets during the California Gold Rush, the duo then foists over kids for anything their old friends want to give them. Rich Hill, old, a walk free-agent – on the disabled list! – and a walk free-agent Josh Reddick who was on the DL himself and has about as much pop as Tim Tebow, assuming the ball is an announced batting practice fastball, heralded as a genius move.

 

A good one was when Friedman had to move clubhouse hero AJ Ellis to get more offense from that all important backup catcher position. Granted, AJ can no longer hit, but if you look through baseball history, or most big league rosters, how many backup catchers do? AJ is a smart player, beloved by his teammates – most especially the guy who wears #22 and is compared to Sandy Koufax – and is essentially another coach or manager in the clubhouse and on the field. Yes, with a rotation in tatters, Friedman felt the need to risk clubhouse chemistry and momentum by moving AJ for another backup catcher. I guess he figured that his new acquisition could pinch hit in the 3rd inning, when one of his horrific starters was lifted, even though it would mean Kike Hernandez or Andrew Toles catching if something happened to passed ball king Yasmani Grandal. Another old guy baseball mindset – who gives a fuck what your backup catcher is hitting? Is he a good catcher? Is he a good game caller? Is he intelligent? AJ is all of these things, Friedman none of them.

 

There is one month left and I would assume the Dodgers should make the playoffs. The Giants have shown no fight in them in the second half and while the Dodgers’ shortcomings have been noted, I can’t say for certain the Giants have a run left in them. I sense they do, but who knows? So that means the Dodgers could win the West or get the wildcard, thrilling the legion of Southland fans to no end. They will point to progress – how the team made it to the playoffs, forgetting they have for years. If they make the wildcard, it will be heralded as an amazing achievement, especially due to all the injuries. No mention will be made that the geniuses acquired known injury cases – and a July 31st deadline arm already on the DL.

 

If the Dodgers don’t do well in October, or miss the playoffs altogether, the suck ups in the media and on social media will cite the amazing year in spite of difficulties. Again, no mention will be made that the difficult road wasn’t one that had to be traveled – how an easier road, with a real baseball man (just one, or two – not a consultancy), using both the financial resources available and prospects to shop with, could have been taken.

 

Kudos will be given to the progress the farm system made, neglecting the fact that almost all of the prospects were inherited from the previous regime. Corey Seager will win Rookie of the Year and get consideration for MVP, but was drafted and cultivated before Friedman and Zaidi slithered into town. Same for Julio Urias. Ditto for Jose De Leon. And others.

 

It would take an epic collapse for the greedy stiffs at Guggenheim to consider a change so likely Friedman, Zaidi and their merry men are here to stay. This will encourage reporters to write and say nice things about the smart guys in the front office and get fans enthusiastic for 2017. The Dodgers will of course start advertising season tickets for the coming season while many of the young fans throw their blue foam fingers aside and grab Rams and Kings gear.

 

As most of us longtime Angelenos know, life in LA is about all the diversions. You can get In N Out Burger, see a Kardashian at the Calabasas Commons, hit the beach, believe the Lakers have a shot, sit in traffic on the 405 and smoke your weed out in public in Van Nuys. The City of Angels, the dream factory, a fantasy world where Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are baseball royalty. It’s not necessarily a great time to be a baseball fan in LA, but it’s a wonderful time to be a suck up.

In Baseball, Like Everything Else, Common Sense is Right More Often than Wrong

July 2, 2015 2 comments

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It’s been a nice summer, not having to deal with anonymous and therefore brave Internet trolls proclaiming to be Dodgers fans. I still get the occasional “drive by” trash talk, which is funny since I don’t tweet anymore. It’s a huge compliment that even those who don’t follow me take the time to say something completely devoid of fact, chock full of venom, toward me. Thank you for those who obviously have such a crush on me.

As those of you who followed my posts and long-form blog entries know, most of what I have said comes true. It’s a gift and a curse, as Adrian Monk famously said, but it’s a “super power” I’ve had for as long as I’ve followed the Dodgers. I recall a day when I called into Dodger Talk and spoke with Geoff Witcher – one of the big voice radio guys whose presentation was greater than his knowledge. I asked about a prospect named Pedro Guerrero, who was tearing up the minors. I told Geoff I thought he would be a great hitter for the Dodgers. In typical polished radio guy parlance, he told me he might be ok, perhaps a 15 homer guy and part of the bench someday. I told Geoff he’d be more than that. Not long after, he was a co-MVP for the Dodgers World Series team and a fixture in the center of the offense – although he couldn’t slide worth shit – until he and Kirk Gibson butted heads in 1988.

In recent years I’ve “called” the thin Dodgers bullpen, who needed to be dealt, who shouldn’t be dealt, etc. I’ve astutely pointed out you need a strong bullpen – working from the back out, and a pitching staff that included less spectacular innings eaters (thus sparing the pen). I pointed out how vital team chemistry is and called out pretty boy Matt Kemp, much to the disdain of his female and male admirers, and Hanley’s lazy approach. I said – look it up if you want, it’s in the tweets and in the blog editions – how calling up Joc Pederson would mean more to the team than the superstar party boys the Dodgers put together. I said not only would Joc provide offensive firepower, but he’d be a pure centerfielder and good teams – any sport – have a strong defense. I was mocked for having the audacity to question Kemp and Hanley, but also the foolishness to think Joc was anything more than a product of Albuquerque’s altitude. Again, look it up, it’s all written down as proof.

I pointed to Joc’s several seasons in a row – different towns, different leagues – of being the complete package. The always on point Dodger Oracle noted how not only was Joc successful in the minors, but his output statistically was greater than Paul Konerko, who outside of Mike Piazza, in my opinion was the best offensive Dodger prospect in several generations. No, I was a fool, wrong as usual, the anonymous trolls said. They would loop in those on mutual block lists like Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Prostate and other pundits who naturally would laugh at such things. Dee Gordon… a spark? A catalyst that threw off managers’ games and brought havoc to pitchers and catchers and defenders league wide? What a fool! I was told that years of defending Dee, only to see him become an All-Star last season, was a fluke. Andrew Friedman, the smartest man in the world, knew best to trade high on Dee. He was useless. Well, he’s lead the National League in hitting all season and was the steal of the winter per many national journalists and baseball people. And the Dodgers have had lead-off issues as a result. Oh, and Dan Haren! How dare I say he was a valuable part of the pitching staff; a former ace who gobbled up innings and save for a month or so slump in 2014, held the bottom of the rotation firm. Who needs him?! Better to pay 2nd half of 2014 surprise Brandon McCarthy for four years – plus Haren’s 2015 salary! – for a better pitcher. Well, I warned, McCarthy has always been hurt, and Friedman already added Brett Anderson, plus – so important! – Hyun-Jin Ryu and that bad shoulder. Wouldn’t it have been smart to add some less questionable guys and keep healthy Haren? No!!! You fool!!! You know NOTHING about baseball. cc all the Moneyball lovers to validate such takes, but of course.

Those who have read my opinions (and that’s all they are, I don’t proclaim to be a sage) also recall my many, many, many comments about Yasiel Puig. I have suggested that his presence likely was as big a part of the chemistry concern in the Dodgers’ clubhouse as star fucker Kemp and party hearty Hanley. Unlike the other two, I understood why keeping Puig made sense, though I suggested many times that if they could find value back in a trade, it might be wise to move the new edition of Raul Mondesi (also citing it would be a challenge for Puig to ever reach Mondesi’s “underachieving” career tally of 271 homers and 229 stolen bases). I was told Puig was leagues beyond Mondesi – not true – and that he would be an MVP in short time. Also, his fun and games, tardiness, bickering with teammates and obvious Kardashian/Jenner-like ego was just Puig being Puig and part of the fun. I was an idiot to suggest dealing him for Mike Stanton or good pitching (this was pre Stanton’s complete breakthrough and massive contract extension). Well, now we hear from journalist and Dodger follower Molly Knight, in her new book (“The Best Team Money Can Buy”), that Puig has indeed been a concern, a cancer, upsetting many of his teammates, even beloved guys like Justin Turner and Zack Greinke. His antics, his entourage, engaging in a relationship with a minor league coach’s daughter, his constant tardiness, his diva-like persona have become an open topic of disdain in the Dodgers locker room. Perhaps it’s no coincidence than when he was shelved for a good part of this season with his hamstring problem, the team rather excelled (except for that inconsistent/inept bullpen and bottom of the rotation) with Andre Ethier stepping up.

During the absence, with regular playing time, Ethier, much more of a good soldier and professional than Puig, put up numbers as good as almost any outfielder in the league, and certainly on par with his glory days in blue. With Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero around (I won’t mention Carl Crawford, he’ll limp around till October, assuming the Dodgers get to play in October), and even Scott Schebler a phone call away, is it really necessary to have this combustible piece on the roster anymore? Imagine if the Dodgers traded Puig… maybe they could turn him into some of that much-needed pitching that’s missing. While his value can only get lower due to the finally public clubhouse cancer comments, he’s still viewed as an amazing athlete and ticket seller. Plus, the Dodgers have offensive potential coming out of their ass with Hector Olivera and Corey Seager soon to be in the lineup.

Would the team be any worse for the wear without Puig, and instead Ethier and SVS playing more, with Olivera and Seager up as well? Would turning Puig into a very good young pitcher or even veteran with several parts for the bullpen be bad? Cole Hamels? A blue chipper? Relief pitchers that have a proven track record as opposed to reclamation projects holding back a team whose payroll tops $300M? I’m going to say something once more that I’ve said many times – and been attacked for by people (young and dumb, it’s not their fault) who don’t know better… balance is the key. An offensive-heavy team usually doesn’t win in any sport; you need the pitching and defense too. The Dodgers, to Friedman’s credit, have done a lot of the things I have advocated for years – addition by subtraction, losing those bloated egos and marginal all-around talents, shoring up the defense, and playing the kids. Those are things I think Friedman and his large team of executives have done well. Bravo! But skimping, or choosing the wrong guys, for the rotation and bullpen, taking risks on a team with endless financial resources, is just foolish. Use some of the chips on hand to address the weaknesses.

Earlier this year, I spoke with friends who follow the team. None of us actually watch the games since the Guggenheim group is much like the Fox group, worse in some ways, and doesn’t give a shit about the fans. The games are not televised to most, so why would we care? Contrary to popular opinion, out of sight really is out of mind. Lifelong fans I know are very disinterested, more chatting with friends about the foibles rather than the games themselves, which is albeit very tragic. During our discussions, we suggested how the Dodgers could use parts such as Alex Guerrero or Scott Van Slyke, or maybe (gasp!) even Julio Urias, whose ego reportedly is also not in check, to obtain the pitching the team obviously needed. No way, of course, should Friedman deal Corey Seager. So we groused how Guerrero could easily slot into some team’s everyday lineup, especially as a DH in the American League, or wouldn’t SVS be a 20+ homer guy given 400+ at bats? Well, all that remains true. The Dodgers bench is bustling with bodies, especially once Olivera and Seager arrive. Even everyone’s favorite, Justin Turner, might fetch something good for the pitching staff. But now, lo and behold, Puig possibly could be a trade piece. Again, would the Dodgers offense be worse if Ethier were allowed to play every day, and when he wasn’t, perhaps SVS was, or Guerrero, and Oliver and Seager were soon to be in the mix. I’d say, not at all. And with the chemistry fix of not having Puig’s ego and entourage trying to crash team travel, probably much improved. Remember, the team did well while he was out – if only they had the pitching in place to not lose some of those games.

Anyway, it all remains to be seen how it plays out. I don’t imagine Puig will be traded, but you never know. I just chuckle as this latest development is just another “I told you so” moment. The bullpen woes for the first half of the last several years, the iffy additions this winter, the Kemp and Hanley issues, Joc, and now Puig. It’s all documented, yet doesn’t resonate with “smarter fans.” Most of these bright fans weren’t even born when the Dodgers were last actually a force – that era ended in 1981, when the famed 70s team was scattered to the wind. 1988, as most know, was beautiful and magical and also an anomaly. Before and after were a lot of listless teams that drifted without direction and a broken infrastructure as O’Malley abandoned ship, Fox razzle dazzled us, then a Botox’d dandy ran the thing aground, and finally global financial gurus took away the joy of watching games on television.

I’ll go on record again as saying the Dodgers need several solid relievers from Kenley Jansen backward, plus stability in the rotation and moving out any piece that causes clubhouse disrupt if they want to beat the Cardinals and more in October. A collection of bats, lots of exciting Cubans, and brainwashed broadcasting guys chiming like Scientologists how great the pitching is isn’t going to work. The data heads who take glee being bullies online know nothing about actual baseball and while they have fanboy wet dreams over what Friedman is doing, the old adage of pitching, defense and timely hitting is what wins baseball games in real life.

Oh, and huge kudos to former Dodger great Mike Scioscia for refusing to listen to dimwitted GM Jerry Dipoto’s “advice” on using data to win baseball games. Mike knows baseball as much as any person alive and for a suit to tell him what to do is beyond insulting. Dipoto – another thing I have mentioned endlessly over the years (again, feel free to look it up!) – was a mediocre GM who squandered away money on the wrong star players. The organization blaming Josh Hamilton, a drug addict, for having a relapse and not Dipoto for signing a junkie to an ill-advised long-term contract is beyond ludicrous. Not to mention inking older in body and mind Albert Pujols to a 10 year deal. His 2015 has been outstanding, well, his June sure was, but before and likely after was a colossal waste of money and fans who blame Pujols at any point should instead point the finger to smarty pants Dipoto. A fan with any intelligence would have known better – I know I did. Mike Scioscia, the Dodger who never should have gotten away, should take his victory lap and make Dipoto scrub his toilet.

It was nice touching base – ignore the trolls, they secretly have crushes on executives because they look so cute in their fitted suits. The rest of us know better.